The other day I had a bit of a sort out and I lined up all the mobile phones I’ve owned in the last fifteen years side by side. Check it out:
Going all the way back to circa 1998, from left to right: my very first mobile, when Mercury was called One2One, a flip-down brick that had a battery life of about ten minutes and a talk time of three seconds. Not that it mattered, as no one else had a phone anyway! Next is a Motorola, still pristine inside its plastic case. Then the classic Nokia – oh, how I lusted after this phone! And kept it for a long time, before upgrading to the Samsung flip-up silver number that brings back wonderful memories now. My hubby and I had a long-distance relationship when we first met, me in Milton Keynes and him living on a boat in Manchester, and I talked to him on this very phone for hours and hours. Hot ears, anyone? Next came another Samsung – cool slide-up style – then my beloved Blackberry, that I reluctantly parted with last year to upgrade to yet another Samsung! Actually, the one in the photo is my husband’s – I was taking the photo on mine. Yes, we have matching phones 😉
What’s interesting about this phone collection is not just the changes in technology and sizes – it’s also what we expected these phones to do. The brick was the beginning, as folks started to think maybe they could take their phones around with them, not just be contactable at the office or at home. The Americans were way ahead of us Brits, of course – and I love the term cell phone far more than mobile. In a short space of time cell phones had become indispensible; whereas before you had to make arrangements to meet, say, and then stick to them, now you could just call and say you’d be a bit late! And suddenly being late was expected to be okay, just because you’d let the other person know. This is, in fact, one of the most irritating changes in the way we live that I attribute directly to mobile phones – nobody bothers to be reliable, on time, or definite anymore. Meeting for coffee next week? Expect a text nearer the time to say when and where. Waiting around in the cafe for your friend? Don’t forget to check your phone – they won’t feel so bad about being late if they can send you a quick text to let you know.
It’s also interesting how cell phones changed fiction. Think of the suspense thrillers, or comedy of errors of old, where the entire plot line would have been resolved if the hero had been in possession of a mobile phone. Now writers must allow for the smart-phone user, with email and the internet on tap twenty four hours a day.
I’m not glued to my phone the way some people are, but I would feel lost without it. When we went away last half term, after the launch of The Family Trap, I was so wrung out and needing a break my husband confiscated my phone and made me ‘go dark’ for the week. I expected to get twitchy and break him down after a day. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it! There’s a kind of compulsion to check in regularly, but I can remember clearly when I had nothing to check in with at all. No email, no texts, no messages except those lighting up the cumbersome answerphone at home. It’s been fascinating to part of the change – my daughter will take these technologies and so much more for granted. But every so often it doesn’t hurt to strip it all away and remember that we used to cope, quite well actually, without being contactable every waking hour.